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17 November 2015

Composer commissioning survey - results are in

Composer commissioning survey - results are in

Results of the commissioning survey, conducted recently by the UK-based Sound and Music in cooperation with the Australian Music Centre, are now ready to be published. Inclusion of the responses by 165 Australian composers and sound artists in this year's survey significantly extends the survey's reach and provides data for interesting comparisons. The AMC circulated the survey separately, with assistance from APRA, and some specific additional questions were added in order to collect data for later use. Sound and Music received 291 responses directly, 227 of them from the UK and 70 from other countries.

The summary report is available for download here (pdf 3.6MB). The survey data, minus any personally identifiable details, is also available for download and can be used under a Creative Commons Attributions Share-Alike license (requires a user account).

One of the main findings of the survey was that commissioning fees in Australia are, across the board, clearly lower than those in the UK, which confirms the anecdotal evidence that we already had through the international activity of many of our composers. The average commission fee from the Australian respondents was $1,581.30, while the equivalent figure based on replies by the UK respondents was £918 ($1,966). A statistically significant number of respondents entered a zero figure across the questions regarding earnings which implies that a sizeable number of composers are not being paid at all for their commissions.

Composers were also asked what they considered to be a fair fee for different types of work, and this was consistently more than what they are actually being paid. For example, on average, composers thought a fair fee for a 10-minute piece for a soloist was $2,802 for Australian respondents and £1,478 ($3,166) for UK respondents. Australian respondents suggested consistently lower fees than UK respondents for different types of work. Perhaps unsurprisingly, composers with years of experience tended to suggest higher fees. Interestingly, Australian composers negotiate their fees much more often than their UK counterparts. 40% of Australian respondents 'always' negotiated, 22% 'sometimes' negotiated, while the most common response by UK respondents to the same question was 'rarely'.

Verbal answers by Australian respondents shed some light on the process and the reasons behind low commissioning fees. 'The commissioning landscape in Australia is quite different to other developed countries, especially the USA and Western Europe. I have on many occasions forfeited fees here simply because individuals, ensembles or organisations just could not offer a decent fee, but really wanted a new work from me. I guess, I have a decently paid day job and don't rely on commissioning fees, but so many younger composers I know just don't have the luxury. How do we change the culture and create one where artistic works and the amount of expertise, skill and talent that goes into it is truly appreciated and appropriately awarded?' wrote one respondent.

Respondents were also asked about turning down commissions: approximately a quarter of respondents (both in the UK and in Australia) turned down commissions, and time was listed as one of the main reasons. There was also a strong level of agreement that there is less rehearsal time for new works than there used to be.

Survey results were generally similar to the findings of a similar SAM survey last year, indicating that commissions are not a significant income source for a lot of composers, that for some commissions there is no pay at all, and that very few composers feel that they are compensated correctly. When asked to compare the last three years, the majority of respondents thought that this year is the worst in terms of the number of and earnings from commissions.

The AMC would like to thank all Australian respondents for taking part in the survey. The survey data will be extremely valuable in assisting us with the development of strategies and initiatives, including composer opportunities.

Further links

Composer Commissioning Survey Report by Sound and Music & Australian Music Centre (pdf 3.6MB) - see also survey data and resources (datahub.io)
Survey summary on the Sound and Music website (www.soundandmusic.org/commissioning-survey-2015)


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Composing commissioning survey results - not surprising at all

I have just read the results of the survey and I must say I am not surprised. I myself have participated in this survey and shared my experiences. It is unfortunate that organisations and individuals who request commissions often act surprised when you state the fees for works. I, for many years, was in the dark as how much to ask for my work, until I read a few years ago the recommended fees by the Australia Council Music Board. 


This is what they recommended to ask them when applying for grants for new works (and I believe that should not be too different from any other organisation):


1 independent line - $453 per minute
2 to 8 independent lines - $514 per minute
9 to 15 independent lines -$584 per minute
16 to 23 independent lines -$645 per minute

24 or more independent lines - $717 per minute

I believe the reason for this state of affairs is the perception of the work of a composer. In the age of music proliferation of all kinds, the highly skilled work of a trained composer is underrated and more often not understood at all. People are often surprised when they are being explained exactly what kind of processes go into composing and how many hours it takes to produce a finished composition. I often resort to comparisons with medical specialists  - they take roughly the same amount of time to become experts in their jobs, but no-one is going to questions the fees they ask for. 


The bottom line is that our society has not yet learnt to appreciate the work of composers. The survey clearly shows that UK composers are better off (and better still our US colleagues). We are a very affluent society, so there should not be any reason why we should be in this predicament.